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By fumbling the healthcare website, Obama disappoints

The cost of Obama's inattention to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act website could be much higher than mere politics.

December 02, 2013|Sandy Banks
  • A woman reads a message indicating that the insurance marketplace website has too much traffic to continue enrollment.
A woman reads a message indicating that the insurance marketplace… (Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty…)

He's supposed to be the technology president, propelled into office by his team's expertise in social media, Internet tracking and online fundraising.

Today, he looks like the fumbler-in-chief, clueless and groveling.

It's hard to miss the irony as President Obama's grand idea hobbles out of the starting gate, tripped up by technological blunders and bureaucratic bumbling.

Affordable healthcare coverage for all Americans is much needed and long overdue. Obamacare has the potential to deliver that, most health experts agree.

But its national launch has been a disaster for the president, one that can't be fully chronicled by anecdotes or numbers.

The website's flawed rollout provides ammunition to those determined to undermine the Affordable Care Act by any means possible: If Big Government can't manage the sign-up process, can you trust them with your healthcare?

The online glitches aren't Obama's fault. He's not a computer programmer; he's just a lawyer who knows how to order things on Amazon and download tunes to his iPod. He told reporters that he was "not informed directly" about the website's problems until after its public meltdown.

Technological failures have become the rule, not the exception, in government projects. Obama said he's been trying to improve the process, but "there's probably no bigger gap between the private sector and the public sector than" information technology.

But this is a man who, as a candidate, managed to raise $500 million online in 2008 and $690 million online during his reelection campaign.

Obviously someone in the president's circle knows how to build and manage a website that doesn't run people off.

Obama enlisted some of Silicon Valley's brightest minds to solicit the millions of online donors whose money helped put him in office. Yet he placed in the hands of bureaucrats the signature accomplishment of his landmark presidency.


Anyone who works for a company that's unveiled a new website or computer system knows there will always be glitches. That's why even tech giants like Google roll theirs out in stages.

The challenges the federal healthcare website faced are not hard to spot in hindsight:

Government officials were slow delivering the specs needed to guide software creation. There was no company designated to oversee the process, coordinate the dozens of contractors and integrate each piece of the project. Warnings that the work was way off track never made their way to the White House. Right up to the deadline for debut, bureaucrats were still demanding changes and arguing over user credentials.

The repaired website, relaunched Sunday, seems to be functioning better but still falling short of its mission. So many visitors tried to sign on — 375,000 by noon on Monday — that the system slowed, errors spiked and thousands were told to try later.

I'll take the glass-half-full approach to that; the pent-up demand reflects the desperate need for relief in this country, where 1 in 7 people lacks health insurance and more than 60% of bankruptcies are the result of mounting medical bills.


It's no secret that I'm a supporter of President Obama. But I am disappointed right now, and angry that he let so much go wrong at such an important moment.

That he lied to us — even if he didn't know it — when he blithely promised that anyone who liked their current insurance could keep it. That he didn't bother to keep track of how work was going on the plan's enrollment portal. That the public relations hype, hurrying people to sign up, seemed more important than leveling with the public.

Signing up may not be as easy as ordering a TV on Amazon or booking a flight on Kayak. It doesn't have to be. The American people aren't so naive that we need to be fed that sort of presidential pablum.

I think back to all the hurdles the Affordable Care Act had to clear, the euphoria of the day the legislation passed, the relief when the Supreme Court let it stand, the government shutdown this country endured to keep it from being gutted.

And I wonder what the cost will be for the president's inattention.

I understand that politics plays an outsized role in this. His Republican opponents have made it their mission to undermine the president and derail healthcare reform.

The bungling by his leadership team is giving them new fodder. For the first time in his five years as president, more than half of voters polled say Obama is not honest or trustworthy, has not been competent in running the country and isn't paying enough attention to what his administration is doing.

But the real danger is more important than a potential hit to the president's legacy; it's the possibility that the rollout problems fuel Republican propaganda, tarnish the program and deprive millions of Americans of the healthcare that they need.

Twitter: @SandyBanksLAT

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